Recently, I have been learning about one of our memory care clients, and when reading through their press releases I am reminded of my own experience with a family member who had dementia. The care my grandfather received was not only important for his health but also the health of our family as a whole. I cannot stress how important it is for families to seek out expert care, and when I see what some of the innovative communities are doing, I can see a true benefit for all.
My grandfather went by many names. Adults liked to call him Wally, short for Wallace, while the grandchildren opted to call him Pops. Wally was a master of the garden—he had a green thumb that could not be matched. He headed multiple programs at his local botanical garden that furthered education about nature for both children and adults. His love for gardening was strong and remains evident today in the greenhouse which he built and spent countless hours in. This same greenhouse was eventually dedicated to his memory and to all his hard work with the garden.
In his later years, Wally had difficulty remembering many things, often forgetting names or events that had recently taken place. Despite the memory obstacles he faced, Wally could always remember how to raise his plants—including where they grew best and other details about each and every plant he had worked with over the years.
As a child, I was unaware of the depth of the struggle my grandfather faced. At first, I did not understand why he was so forgetful, why he often seemed somewhat withdrawn or was easily confused. Growing up, I simply accepted his lack of memory as a part of who he was as a person and as a grandparent. When I turned eight, Pops was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, confirming the suspicions of my parents and the rest of the adults in our family. I, of course, was still unaware of what exactly he was going through. The grandchildren were simply told that Pops was sick, that he was very forgetful and that we needed to be patient. And so, as I grew up, I dutifully continued to visit him, attempting to help him feel better and to learn more about him and his life experiences.
Being the grandchild of an individual with a severely diminished memory is difficult. The grandparent can often seem scary, confusing or less caring. This was the impression that I first had—that my grandfather did not really care about his grandchildren. However, after his diagnosis, my family sought out help, finding multiple doctors and classes that helped him to retain some memory and to engage more easily with those around him. Had Pops not received the attentive memory care that he needed, I would have never truly experienced my grandfather. Thankfully, with the help of trained caregivers who provided tools that allowed family members to more easily engage him, I was able to create strong and lasting memories with my grandfather.
There is a specific day that stands out in my mind. One misty morning my grandfather decided to take me to his beloved botanical garden to give me a behind-the-scenes tour of his most cherished place. I was so irritated with my parents that morning! They made me wake up early and go out into the dreary morning just to go look at some plants. What kid wants to just look at plants in the drizzle with their quiet, somewhat unresponsive grandfather for four hours?
Despite my protests, I went with Pops to the gardens and began the tour. He came alive in that moment, in that place, in a way I had never seen before. He talked about planting the very tree I was looking at, about weeding the garden beds visitors were restricted from touching, about nourishing nearly every piece of nature that surrounded us in the garden. Pops’ practice with his memory care nurses as well as the support of my family and his medical community allowed him to share a central piece of himself with me.
I still have pictures from that day in a small, flower-covered photo album on a bookshelf in my room. On that dreary day in the garden, despite his worsening dementia and Parkinson’s disease, my grandfather and I were able to create our own kind of forget-me-nots.
Experiencing memory care on such a personal level allowed me to better understand the value of having trained professionals working closely with affected individuals and their families to improve quality of life and to provide a sense of peace. Memory care helps reconnect families so that lessons, stories and values can continue to be passed down through generations.